You have the new title and the corporate lanyard, and your name-card is at the printers. Congratulations, your new role has begun: no doubt it feels great.

Yet that sound that you hear is the clock ticking – and guess what. Any lack of clarity around this new role is potentially hazardous to your prospects. A great deal is expected of you: but if you’re still not certain exactly what that is, that needs fixing. More to the point, you need to know clear what you should do first, in order to make your probation period impactful.

Fear not: the answers are often readily available. Sometimes it’s just a matter of asking a few key questions before knuckling down to the task. Just remember: the tasks that you were the most excited by during the interview should not necessarily be your immediate focus in months one to three. For your first 90 days, perfection can wait. It’s time to get busy on making an early impact towards proving your worth and integrating with the team.  

1. What should my three top priority tasks be?

Typically, the job description (or JD) you’ve successfully answered reads like a laundry-list of skillsets – including the must-haves, the ought-to-haves, and even a few that are “we’d love these, but they’re not essential”. Now is the time to establish your priorities – and especially what you’re being measured by in the immediate future.

And in case simplification isn’t your manager’s best skill, be ready to step in. Frame the question in terms of percentages: if your whole job were to add up to 100%, how would its key tasks break down by percentage? Group together the three tops tasks, which hopefully comprise more than 50% of this list. These should be your must-haves to master. Write up and share a timeline to lock in the early deliveries on this list.

2. What are my success metrics for these tasks?

Your manager may well be overwhelmed as you arrive – team turnover and replacement can be taxing. This means however that there’s a strong chance that under pressure, your manager could prove guilty of judging your success or otherwise in a subjective, or even an unfair way.

While having an instinct for how you’re doing is not unreasonable as a contributing factor to performance, it shouldn’t be the only measure. Support your case with concrete numbers, to provide a good balance, especially in the face of unreasonable expectations.

Seek to get these target numbers verified by a trusted colleague, ideally well before you agree to them. Targets are negotiable: if not the actual number, then at least the time-frame could be. You’re unlikely to start at full speed during the orientation process, for instance. And remember, seeking to add a dose of realism to the role can ultimately prove a key to stabilising the function as quickly as possible, and showing that you know what you’re doing.

3. What immediate pressures does this role face?

Understanding the context of the conversation you’ve inherited is important. If your job’s previous occupant left in less than perfect circumstances, then you need to be mindful of the issues and potential hot-points around the role.

That said, you should not come in as immediately political. Asking this question of various people around you can give you important context, including establishing potentials allies, and those around whom you might proceed with caution. It is also asked in the best non-personal way, to establish that you’re just here to do a great job and not to play any games.

With the aid of these questions and plenty of work spent on delivery, you will start your role in style: and within three months on confirmation, people will already be seeing the difference you are making. If you continue to communicate clearly and effectively, your newfound prioritisation and context can be key tools for a successful new job.

Read more:
13 questions to ask hiring managers during a job interview
How to survive your job search
Vetting your next company: How to ensure it's the right fit

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